Reflections on reference and reflexivity

In Michael O'Rourke Corey Washington (ed.), Situating Semantics: Essays on the Philosophy of John Perry. pp. 395--424 (2007)


In Reference and Reflexivity, John Perry tries to reconcile referentialism with a Fregean concern for cognitive significance. His trick is to supplement referential content with what he calls ‘‘reflexive’’ content. Actually, there are several levels of reflexive content, all to be distinguished from the ‘‘official,’’ referential content of an utterance. Perry is convinced by two arguments for referentialism, the ‘‘counterfactual truth-conditions’’ and the ‘‘same-saying’’ arguments, but he also acknowledges the force of two Fregean arguments against it, arguments that pose the ‘‘coreference’’ and the ‘‘no-reference’’ problems. He sees these as genuine problems for referentialism and does not share Howard Wettstein’s (1986) view that semantics has ‘‘rested on a mistake,’’ the mistake of thinking that semantics is obliged to come to grips with ‘‘cognitive significance’’ and, in particular, to explain the fact that coreferring terms can differ in cognitive significance and that terms lacking in reference can still have cognitive significance. Perry points out that ‘‘there is nothing in [the arguments for referentialism] to show that the official content, rather than the reflexive content, is the key to understanding the cognitive motivation and impact of utterances’’ (Perry 2001, 193).1 In other words, ‘‘a theory of direct reference provides no argument for ignoring reflexive content, and, properly understood, has no motivation for searching for such an argument.’’ Thus Perry uses the notion of reflexive content to complement referentialism with a theory of cognitive significance. Frege drew a fundamental distinction between the reference of a term and the means by which its reference is determined. In his view, however, it is not the references themselves but the means by which they are determined that enter into propositions (‘‘Thoughts’’) expressed by sentences in which the terms occur. So we might call Frege an ‘indirect reference’ theorist. Echoing the introduction to Kaplan’s ‘‘Afterthoughts’’ (1989a), Perry stresses that ‘direct’, as it occurs in ‘direct reference’, does not imply that ‘‘the mechanism of reference is unmediated by the relation of fitting identifying conditions’’ (188).

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Kent Bach
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Citations of this work

Intention-Sensitive Semantics.A. Stokke - 2010 - Synthese 175 (3):383-404.
Token-Reflexivity and Repetition.Alexandru Radulescu - 2018 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 5:745-763.

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